Experienced Points: Dragon Age: Impositions

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 25, 2014

Filed under: Column 212 comments

My column this week is about the multiplayer aspect of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Also, allow me to head off some nitpicking and address something that didn’t fit into this column. (The satirical “Advice of Screwtape” style kind of boxes you in sometimes.)

In the column I claimed that people weren’t asking for multiplayer in Dragon Age. I’m sure that in reality there are lots of people who found themselves thinking, “Man, I wish I could play this with my friends.” However, this is nothing like what we were given. What you probably want is an intimate and mechanically interesting experience with one or two friends. What you get is a shitty grindfest with rando internet strangers. (Unless you and three friends available at the same time on the same platform.) To be fair, some people really do like that. But that’s not what people had in mind when they dreamed of playing Dragon Age co-op.

This takes us right back to the very heart of the Bioware outrage: They turned their back on their original fans in order to court a larger demographic. That’s fine, but they keep pretending they’re Old Bioware. So when we gripe about all the innumerable ways in which they are failing to deliver on that we end up getting shouted down by the much larger crowd of New Bioware fans who care nothing for the pre-Mass Effect 2 games.

EA marketing makes this worse by framing every new annoyance as “giving in to public demand”. That’s slick, because I can’t prove there aren’t millions of people asking to pay for stuff that used to be free. And there will always be people ready to make the “you don’t have to play it” defense. Bioware is great at making characters we love, which makes some people difficult and defensive when you try to criticize the game those characters inhabit. People are always saying tedious crap like, “This game had Mordin Solus in it, so your argument is invalid.” Meanwhile EA is running an online store behind a Mordin mask and laughing at both of us.

It really does make me mad.

Let’s make our world seem more vibrant and lived-in by having tons of NPCs around. And also let’s completely ruin the effect by having them stand like statues in bowling-pin formation.
Let’s make our world seem more vibrant and lived-in by having tons of NPCs around. And also let’s completely ruin the effect by having them stand like statues in bowling-pin formation.

Here is my take: This business with bits of the single-player game feeling free-to-play is not an accident. EA is just trying to boil the frog a little more slowly this timeYes, I’m aware that the “boil a frog” analogy is not scientifically sound. But it’s a really useful analogy.. In some future Dragon Age game we’ll have the same “power unlocks new game areas” mechanic, only you’ll need to grind a bit to get the power you need and you’ll be able to buy power directly. This is just the first phase of getting us used to free-to-play mechanics in a $60 AAA game.

Yeah, this sounds kind of conspiracy theory-ish. But it’s the only way these mechanics make sense to me.



[1] Yes, I’m aware that the “boil a frog” analogy is not scientifically sound. But it’s a really useful analogy.

From The Archives:

212 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Dragon Age: Impositions

  1. Zephyr1990 says:

    So far I’ve tried to play the game three times and have watched a friend play it for much longer and the whole time i just cant help but think “Wow this sure is a really bad mmo.”

    It just feels like they wanted to make some kind of open world skyrim-like game, but they also wanted to add in some stuff from old dragon age, and also have an mmo like playing enviroment, plus a multiplayer grind-fest.

    And in the end the whole thing just feels empty and kind soul-less to me… what I mean by that is I cant get immersed in a semi-living world like the elder scrolls, i cant get into the story since it takes forever to get anywhere, and i cant enjoy the mmo grind because there isn’t anyone to party with.

    1. TouToTheHouYo says:

      Precursor to the inevitable “Dragon Age: Online“?

      1. Zephyr1990 says:

        I would like to hope that Bio-Ware wouldn’t be that dumb, but then again Bethesda already tried the same thing.

        1. Ronixis says:

          More to the point, BioWare themselves already tried that (The Old Republic).

          1. Felblood says:

            –and you would think thy would have learned, but no.

            EA is their master now, and they serve only the dark side.

            1. James says:

              SWTOR was a excellent story, with vanilla gameplay and stock side quests for the most part, and while i still enjoy it i feel its more because of the Star Wars Paintjob. i would recommend everyone try it, after all it is Free to Play now. but i would say it is a WoW MMO, with WoW Gameplay, but a Star Wars story/skin and Bioware flourishing.

              1. Felblood says:

                I did try it. I mean, I really wanted to like it.

                It just doesn’t scratch the itch.

                Most perturbing was the way that light or dark side points are used. There is a mechanical incentive to pick one alignment and farm those points regardless of any role-playing concern. This is a shame, because I often found myself interested in playing against type here or there, but knew that I’d be sacrificing progression and have to work hard to make up the deficit.

                When I played a dark side character, I would occasionally meet a character that I felt my character would be sympathetic with. It was Sophie’s choice choosing to gimp my character(mechanics), or break character(story). That dissonance just yanked me out of the game every time, and it was too much to get back into it.

                When I played a light side character things were overall smoother, but suddenly I’d encounter a situation where “Good is Dumb” and be asked to do something completely idiotic in the name of mercy or honor or tradition. In an older KOTOR game, I’d take my lumps and be 90% lightside, but in this model that 10% was significant enough to hurt, and that made me super mad at the game and the devs.

                In the end, I was getting more grief out of these problems than joy from the game.

                1. Daimbert says:

                  It isn’t as bad as it was in the KotOR games. My characters — both Republic and Sith — tend towards the light but don’t really max it out, and the most problems I’ve encountered is that I can’t use the cool light-side/dark-side weapons, like lightsabers, because my level isn’t high enough. And I have taken three characters to 50. Granted, there’s a bit of grinding involved in that, but I don’t do group missions or warzones, so it balances out.

      2. Andrew says:

        Please no….

    2. The “power” mechanic has nothing to do with proposed microtransactions–this is how they were trying to approach gameplay/story integration and mitigate the “I have to rush to save the world but sure, lady, I’ll rescue your dog first” thing that is a major part of every RPG that has ever existed. Of course, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that ANOTHER way to do this, instead of introducing a nonsensical purely-gameplay mechanical system, would be to NOT START YOU OFF WITH THE WORLD IN DANGER OF IMMEDIATE DESTRUCTION. But that wouldn’t suck you in! MUST START IN MEDIAS RES WITH THINGS BLOWING UP IN YOUR FACE YAH!

      The thing is that this power mechanic doesn’t in any way explain HOW saving some random stranger’s dog gets you the resources you need to invade a fortress. It’s too mechanically simplistic, so it doesn’t accomplish that goal very well. They’re also trying to walk a line between the Gamer OCD folks who will complete everything just because it’s there and people who just want to enjoy the story, so the amount of power you NEED to do anything is trivial compared to the amount you can GET. I still had 3 full zones basically untouched and I had something like thirty times the power I needed to finish the game. Yeah, you can keep playing after the end, but WHY? The whole thing is basically Scavenger Hunt: The Game.

      Mind you, I’m having a lot of fun playing it (or, at this stage, playing it AGAIN), but I think that may be due to the fact that I quite like the Cullen romance (bite me) and that I really dig the setting more than any substantial virtue inherent in the game. It’s not bad . . . but it’s not good, either. It’s just sort of a vehicle for you to run around finding a ton of crap should you be in the mood to do so, and occasionally chat up some not uninteresting people in the process.

  2. Tizzy says:

    This is not conspiracy theory: this appears to be where the game industry is right now. AAA games cost a fortune to develop, and 90%+ of revenue is made in the presales and week 1. The biggest problem they are trying to solve is: (1) how do you keep people playing the game once it’s been released? (2) how do you manage to get revenue out of that?

    1. Ivan says:

      I realize you might not have an answer to this but I need to ask it anyway. “AAA games cost a fortune to develop…” So why don’t devs just spend less?

      What exactly are we getting from these hundred million dollar games that is so awesome that it justifies spending a hundred million dollars to produce it?

      I mean excellent games have been produced for far less money. My all time favorite is the original Portal which was just a 2 hour proof of concept to see if there was even a market for such a puzzle game. Next on my list is Golden Sun from way back in the Game Boy Advance era. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a AAA game, and recently I’ve been finding the market especially bland and the most interesting titles I’ve found have all been Indi or produced from other relatively small studios.

      Spending so much to try to create the next block-buster just seems so pointlessly self-destructive when you hear those major publishers constantly trying to cut costs and kill piracy (usually at the cost of the consumer) because if they don’t then they run the real risk of a flop outright killing them. Not to mention that anything that would be fun has to be diluted to appeal to the lowest common-denominator so that they can reach the largest audience possible.

      Why does this have to be such a high-stakes game?

      1. guy says:

        Red Queen’s Race scenario, “We must run faster and faster to stay in one place”. For AAA games to succeed, they don’t need to meet some objective standard of quality, they need to be a match for the competition. Spend half as much money, and you risk getting much less than half as many sales. Better to bet a lot on a big win than repeatedly dump money into a guaranteed loss.

        At least, that’s the theory.

        1. Ivan says:

          I’m looking for specifics though, where exactly is this money being spent? I have my suspicions that the majority is going to get the shiny-ist pixels. If this is the case then I have to say that I much prefer aesthetic over photo-realism. Now that I think about it, the last AAA games I really liked were BF2142 and Star Wars BF2. Which, while I’m not a big fan of the military shooter, both of these had their own take on this and a theme that made everything much more interesting.

          1. Supahewok says:

            To be honest, this is a conversation that has happened again and again on this blog, without fail for at least 6 years. If Shamus ever had to come up with a single theme to describe this blog over the entirety of its existence, screaming “Where the hell is all their money going!?!” would probably come the closest.

            Let’s see what I can remember.

            Voice Acting. Even no-name extras with voiced lines end up costing quite a bit, since there’s also a writing and animation cost for lip syncing. And when you insist on hiring on some Star Power to voice for you, well…

            Animation. The better 3d models look, the more effort has to go into their animation to avoid Uncanny Valley. This has meant a rise in mo-cap, which includes mo-cap actors. This is especially important for Assassin’s Creed, and is probably the real answer why there wasn’t a female option in Unity. Climbing buildings is a big part of AC. Its composed of a flattish vertical plane (the wall) with points that characters travel between. To look convincing, the points are spaced apart just far enough for a (presumably) 6ft tall athletic man to stretch to reach. Unless you wanted a woman with the EXACT same size and dimensions as the male protagonist, (which would look outlandish at the least, most women I have known are 5′ – 5’6″ in a first world country with the nutrition and medical care that implies. Of course, there are female basket ball players, but they look just as atypical as male basketball players) you couldn’t reuse the same animations. The arms and legs and body would be too short. That can easily double their animation budget, which is already significant. Anyways, that was a digression.

            Licensing/Developing New and Better Graphics Engines.

            More Shineys in the form of postprocessing effects.

            And, the greatest cost of them all, MOAR ADVERTISING. I’ve seen estimates in places that half of a COD game’s budget is advertising. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars. Which may or may not be being used effectively. It’s a certainty that somewhere along the way publishers have passed the point of diminishing returns with their advertising, but modern AAA development is such a massive house of cards that they’re afraid of doing ANYTHING but continuing to build on it, in fear of the cards collapsing.

            Ahh, there’s bound to be several I’ve missed. But I don’t want to be at this all night, and I went off on a rant once already. You want more, dig through the archive of either the blog or Experienced Points, you’ll find PLENTY to assuage your curiosity.

            1. guy says:

              I dunno about the female animation thing. I mean, Shadow of Mordor has somewhat AC style climbing and put in a free female skin for the player avatar, and it seemed to do just fine.

              Voice acting, though, is crazy-expensive. I once looked up some numbers and did a back-of-the-envelop calculation and estimated that voicing the DA:O warden would cost five percent of the game budget.

              There’s also Environment Design: it turns out that getting an engine capable of more shinies does not actually mean you have more shinies. If you add bump mapping and you don’t want everything to have the same bump map, you’re going to have to make a bunch of bump maps and assign them to objects. If you want to display objects with more detail, you need to create more detail. This isn’t universally true, for instance you can have a new lighting model that makes things look better without requiring you to change anything or only change lights or translucent surfaces or something, but lots of things do require more work.

            2. Joe Informatico says:

              The voice-acting thing really gets me, because I’ve rarely been impressed by Big Name stunt-casting in a game. I make exceptions for the likes of Keith David and Robin Atkin Downes, who might have started as live-action actors but definitely built up a craft as voice actors, but parachuting in someone from live-action solely out of Name or genre appeal almost never seems to work. Skyrim took one of the greatest living actors of stage and screen and wasted his talents. Dishonored cast a murderers’ row of genre film names and had them deliver some of the most deadpan, stilted dialogue ever. Whenever I’ve heard decent voice-acting in a game, it’s almost always–surprise!–from a professional voice-actor.

              Did Kevin Spacey’s appearance in Advanced Warfare really draw in anyone who wasn’t going to buy that game anyway? And all I’ve heard of Peter Dinklage’s role in Destiny is how awful it is.

              1. guy says:

                Patrick Stewart in Oblivion.

                1. NotDog says:

                  Just to play devil’s advocate for Stewart, he did do voice work in games before Oblivion. Lands of Lore is one example.

                  Not to say that his role in Oblivion made the most of Stewart’s talents of course.

                  1. guy says:

                    No, I meant that the other way around. He didn’t spend much time in there, but he delivered a fine performance.

                    1. Nothing will ever make up for the awfulness of that “Close Shut the Gates of Oblivion!” line they made Patrick Stewart deliver. Close shut? Are you serious? Any half-decent writer would have been SKEWERED for that kind of hilariously awful writing, and they made PATRICK STEWART say that?!

                      Good lord. Don’t get me wrong, DDO has a “you may now descend down” line in it, but the writing in that game is universally bad and hacky so it doesn’t matter. That was supposed to be a big dramatic line that got used in promotional materials etc. etc. etc.

              2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                At least Kevin Spacey was also completely animated,so it kind of makes sense to have a movie actor be in that one as opposed to someone who just voice acts a completely random looking npc.

            3. Felblood says:

              Actually, studies show that game sales correlate almost directly with game marketing budgets.

              Whether this is because publishers spend money marketing top selling titles, or because titles sell more when heavily marketed is a matter of much debate.

              Remember that all the bump mapping and voice acting in the world won’t help you until you have actually convinced someone to take a look at your game. Ask any indy who developed a game on a budget of bread and water; that is the hardest and most important step in today’s saturated entertainment market.

              1. Zekiel says:

                I realised an embarrassingly short time ago that I really am affected by videogame marketing. Games with more marketing budget tend to get more exposure on videogame blogs (which I’m not saying is due to editorial corruption, just that the more general exposure a game has, the more its going to draw people to your blog when you run a feature on it). And the fact that everyone is talking about a game makes me want to play it.

                The same effect does happen with non-AAA games too, like Gone Home or Papers, Please, but its a lot more predictable with your big AAA games.

              2. Alex says:

                “Remember that all the bump mapping and voice acting in the world won't help you until you have actually convinced someone to take a look at your game. Ask any indy who developed a game on a budget of bread and water; that is the hardest and most important step in today's saturated entertainment market.”

                Word of mouth can compensate for a lower marketing budget. If your game is good enough, people will advertise for you, free of charge. It’s fun to show off the awesome starship you built in Kerbal Space Program, and doing that makes other people want to get in on the fun as well. It’s one of the reasons why pre-order exclusives annoy me so much: it means you can hear about an awesome game and then not be allowed to buy it, only its neutered post-release brother.

                1. Felblood says:

                  If word of mouth was just as effective, but less expensive, everyone would use it exclusively.

                  Word of mouth takes a lot of man hours. Word of mouth takes special skills and talents. Word of mouth depends on a lot of luck. Word of mouth only happens after someone gives your game a try. Word of mouth take a hell of a lot more than just a quality product, and the fundamental fairness and good nature of the universe.

                  There are a lot — I mean a LOT — of indie titles trying to generate some word of mouth. A good community manager, is worth his weight in gold to any one of them. A guy who knows a guy who has a respected review column is worth 10 times what the best community manager is.

                  A quality product, complete with all the bling shaders, compelling narative and engaging story in the world, will not generate one good word of buzz, if the first person never picks it up and gives it a chance.

              3. MrGuy says:

                True for new stuff and small studios/indies certainly.

                But for a new CoD game? Do you really need at this point to hype the bejezus out of it? Your target demo is going to buy “the next one” no matter what, aren’t they? Release a few awesome trailers and gameplay demos on YouTube, and they’ll come.

                I know I’d buy a Saints Row V almost sight unseen. Just tell me the launch date and I’m in.

    2. How would they make money off of me?

      Simple: Take a Bethsoft open-world RPG and develop freakin’ DLC until the next game comes out. I’d happily drop 9 bucks a month to get a new Old World Blues or Dead Money or something added onto Fallout New Vegas. There’s a reason people download tons of mods for these games, and one of them is new content for a game they like.

      Heck, they could even sell asset packs for modder use: NPCs, voice tracks, models, etc.

      I know Shamus has told us that navmeshing and scripting and all that is difficult, and I acknowledge that (a lot of quests in the GECK resemble a conspiracy theorist’s bulletin board, with pushpins connected by miles of yarn), but it’s got to be a lot easier than developing entirely new games, and it would keep interest in the most recent games fresh. Heck, imagine if they offered DLC that could replace the main quest in Fallout 3, or a new version of Caesar’s Legion that wasn’t quite so evil, etc.?

      They could probably make tons of cash just releasing arena-like areas with more dudes to shoot. I don’t get why they haven’t at least tried this beyond the usual 3 to 4 DLC packs and then done.

      1. guy says:

        It’s probably not as much cheaper as you’d think. For a DLC to feel fresh, it needs new enemies, new story, and new art assets. Combine with setting up and testing the environment, and that’s a huge chunk of the cost of a game right there. Plus people do eventually get bored of a system.

        1. The story is the script and dialog. That part’s pretty easy, comparatively speaking, and would do the most to carry the DLC.

          New art assets? Perhaps, but not entirely new ones are needed for every DLC. In Fallout, for example, we could get a new NCR-held area that’s under attack. That’s one faction right there with all the assets already in place. Not to mention I’ve seen mods that add only a few custom-made bits to existing art and the difference is striking.

          How do you define “new enemies?” I mean, the Trogs from “The Pitt” and the Tunnelers from “Lonesome Road” are practically the same monster. They use the same skeletons and animations, so all that was required was a new skin. The Marked Men are just dudes with altered skins as well. Even Skyrim’s Draugr have a kind of semi-variety as well (Restless, Overlord, Scourge, etc.) Even if it recycles 100% already-used enemies, if the story is good, I don’t see this as an issue.

          As for people getting bored of a system, I find Skyrim pretty dull, but sales and the number of mods in existence seem to disagree with my point of view. I’d say that the base mechanics of the current Bethsoft games are fairly solid (Skyrim less so, due to a poor magic system and exploitable crafting and so on), at least for having fun. Fans are already clamoring for any news about Fallout 4, and I think they’re mostly looking for a new chunk of the world to explore, not a complete re-design of the way the game is played.

          1. Jeff says:

            Story is actual content, sure.

            Story is also a creative endeavor, not something measurable by the (moronic) metrics that the (incompetent) money men can (ignorantly) budget for.

      2. Alex says:

        Bethesda also has the advantage of mods. People will make content for your DLC for free if you give them the tools to do so. The more robust and expansive the skeleton, the more content you have, even if you don’t make it yourself.

      3. stratigo says:

        Sounds like paradox’s strategy to me….

        I’ve spent probably over 100 dollars on CK2 by now >.<

    3. MrGuy says:

      Game developers do not care about 1 (keep people playing longer). They care only about 2 (make more revenue post-launch). The only reason they ever APPEAR to care about 1 is when it plausibly leads to 2.

  3. Ronixis says:

    I parsed the ‘power’ system as just a pacing feature, myself. I read it as saying, “you should go and do some other things before you move on, but it doesn’t really matter what.” If you just bought it, you’d need to buy levels also, or you’d be too weak for the next big plot mission.

    1. guy says:

      That would make more sense if it were a “you must be this tall to enter” thing. Like how in Skyrim some quests don’t trigger until you’re a high enough level, or any of the innumerable games where you must complete a quest/beat a high level enemy to unlock a zone, but in a less direct sense.

      If it’s a pacing mechanism, spending it to unlock quests is badly flawed because it creates an incentive to skip gated sidequests in order to save up for the next main quest. If you simply didn’t deduct power for unlocking things and gave main quests power requirements equal to the sum of the current costs of all main quests you’re expected to complete previously, it would pace the player about as effectively.

      1. stratigo says:

        This only works if power was rare. It isn’t. I have 300 power in my DAI game, have spent it on all the side things you can, and have maybe 50 more to spend to finish the main quest. Power’s easy to get.

    2. Nyctef says:

      Pretty much this. I really like game systems where they encourage/force you to do sidequests in order to proceed with the main quest. Saint’s Row 2 and 4 are other games that I remember did this well. Having sidequests obviously contribute to the main quest’s win condition (like in ME3) also works.

      This was my main gripe with Borderlands 2 – I was actually so invested in the main quest that I felt guilty about every sidequest that I ended up doing. In the end I was underlevelled pretty much all the time, which made the game much less enjoyable. I’ve done completionist runs since then and they’re way more fun.

      1. Jonathan says:

        Obligatory Baldur’s Gate II reference is required here. :)

      2. Felblood says:

        That’s fine as far as it goes, but remember that this can be done badly.

        Does anyone remember Freelancer?

        I sure hope you didn’t buy a Britonian Freighter in Act 2. It’s a great way to make the money you need to advance the plot quickly, but once you get there, you’re getting eaten alive by Rhineland’s Valkyries.

      3. Classic says:

        It’s my understanding that the power costs only gate off new zones and/or critical path quests. In fact, some side quests give you power (though reports are that they’re rare).

        It really seems to exist as a way to make sure that the player won’t be curb-stomped by “basic” encounters in the zone, but they still want the player to find veteran/elite/champion style challenges that they might want to level up for and come back to revenge curb-stomp later.

        BioWare doesn’t have top-flight systems designers, but they’re at least good enough that I trust them to make it impossible for the player to screw themselves literally or functionally out of the power they need to advance (to new foes who will curb-stomp them).

        1. Tintenseher says:

          “In fact, some side quests give you power (though reports are that they're rare).”

          Whoever’s reporting needs to look again. Just about everything you do gives you power/influence. Sidequests, Fade Rifts, camps, landmarks, requisitions, War Table missions…everything generally gives you 1-5 power or 40-200 influence, but it adds up quick.

          1. Classic says:

            I don’t count anything that I’d confuse for a Guild Wars 2 heart or event as being a side-quest. I need my juicy talky bits for it to count.

  4. Artur CalDazar says:

    In single player there are plenty of reasons to have these “free to play” mechanics in paid single player, even though that style has tarnished twit view in people’s minds. It’s something of a concern to developers that people have expectations for these mechanics in that genre and vice versa since by themselves the mechanics are useful in premium design. They encrouage players to finish the game and remember it which is rare for most games, they help different aspects to reinforce each other no matter how disparate they may be, and it provides greater context to progression.
    There are many reasons to have these elements, it’s a shame that misuse of these elements and an unyielding public expectation of them means they are often mixed in practice.

    1. Mephane says:

      They encrouage players to finish the game and remember it which is rare for most games, they help different aspects to reinforce each other no matter how disparate they may be, and it provides greater context to progression.

      Could you elaborate, please, what you mean by that? What “aspects” are you talking about, how would they “reinforce” each other, why are those aspects good and how do F2P mechanics positively contribute to this?

      And what is this “greater context to progression” you speak of. I have no idea what that even means.

      1. Felblood says:

        I think he’s referencing how traditional single player games gate content behind in-game achievements, so that when you get to a certain area, it feels good, just knowing that you managed to get in.

        This comes in 3 basic flavors.

        1. Skill check.

        This is that feeling of accomplishment that comes with clearing a boss you were stuck on, and getting to see the next level/area/cuts

        **and someone jut dumped milk all ovr, me and I’ll hve to finish this later.**

        1. Felblood says:

          –and I’m back. What a day, let me tell you.

          The other 2 kind of always include some part of the first, but they’re distinct enough to shout out.

          Type 2 is a stat check. This dilutes the need for player skill with a need for some other type of player investment, usually a timesink. Fill enough XP bars, farm enough gold, acquire enough darkside points, refer enough friends, be a subscriber for enough days, or buy enough DLC. It’s al lthe same under the hood.

          Make the numbers go up enough and you can go somewhere special. You can tell it’s special because it needed numbers so high that yours weren’t high enough before. Your numbers felt pretty high before, but now they must be really high, and that feels pretty good.

          I might come across as snide here, but this jacks pretty deep into the pleasure centers of the brain. It makes game more fun, even if it doesn’t really make them fun enough all on it’s own. It can be addictive or abusive though, so players and designers need to wield his responsibly.

          Type 3 is my personal favorite. I call it the Gear Check, even though that term can also be a derogatory term for type 2 in some circles.(MMO raiders, referring to bosses that are basically a pure Type 2 without enough Type 1 to make the plyer feel like he really owns his victory.)

          People love to get stuff. — but what if there was a way that you could get stuff, by getting stuff? Every time you collect an in-game item, that item has the potential to also unlock some prt of the game’s content.

          Keycards and fetch quest jibblies are the obvious contenders, but they are also the worst. The gear check feels best when it ties back to one of the other two types. Getting flame armor to pass the lava pool or boss is good? Collecting the final piece of the flame armor set to increase your fire resist number to 100% just feels better. Getting a higher jump that gets you onto new ledges feels good? Getting a double jump that requires skill to get onto the very highest ledges feels better. Getting an ability that takes existing game objects and re-contextualizes them into a different kind of content feels even better than that. Anti-gravity boots can turn every ceiling into a new floor, or a weapon with a high knock-back can turn environmental hazards into advantageous terrain; it doesn’t have to be a twitch skill check, it can be about opening a fresh mental challenge to the player.

          1. Mephane says:

            Those are typical (MMO)RPG features, I know about these. What I was asking the other poster was, what typical Free-To-Play features they would consider beneficial for singleplayer. Even more so when the game is not even F2P in the first place.

            I am not talking about content DLC or character skins like Gearbox sells for the Borderlands games. I am talking about genuine, typical F2P features, like

            – Consumables for real money
            – Ingame gold for real money
            – Bank and inventory space exclusively for real money
            – Renting said bank and inventory space
            – Renting access to content (as opposed to just buying a DLC)
            – Content blocked by consumables sold only for real money
            – Massively inflated grind with grind-quickening/-skipping items sold for real money
            – Ingame unlockable items sold for real money to skip the unlocking process (usually tied to massive grinds)

            These things are acceptable if your game is actually free-to-play, as in there is no upfront purchase, period; but even then that doesn’t mean they are in any way beneficial for the gameplay, the story, the atmosphere, or any other aspect most players care about in a game.

            1. Artur CalDazar says:

              I was referencing mechanics, not payment options given a place by said mechanics. Isn’t that what we were all doing since the game lacks any real pricing in the single player?

      2. Artur CalDazar says:

        Well using Inquisition as an example seems like a wise move so:

        Closing Rifts, establishing camps and helping out locals with their problems are all actions that improve public perception of the Inquisition or its military power. But it might be a little hard to see how that really matters, how does making a camp in the middle of the hinterlands help anyway? Well it directly helps you the player because it gives you power which you need to perform certain actions in the main story, thus linking those two areas of the game. It also works backwards, “why am I suddenly able to do these things? Oh, because I went out and helped establish enough of a name for the Inquisition that we can pull these strings or force this outcome, I was the one who made this possible.”.

        This is also part of greater context to progression, side quests are not just side quests, they are actions that improve your standing and make you think they are more important than they would otherwise seem. But also, having a number go up when you do something makes people feel good, using that number to indicate when you are able to move on means that you more naturally gate off access to areas the player might not be ready for, rather than giving the feeling “oh I haven’t hit the right flags to go here” you feel “I need to expand my influence to go here”.

        Am I more clear?

  5. Jack Kucan says:

    The last footnote starts with “Ye,m I’m aware” instead of “Yes, I’m aware”.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Also, “rando internet strangers”

      1. Noumenon72 says:

        That’s obviously intentional. Shamus, don’t take spelling advice from some rando in the comments.

        1. Shamus says:

          My definitions, in case anyone is curious: “Random” means a means lack of pattern or predictability in events. “Rando” means unpredictable stupidity or behavior.

          In the range 1-100, here are Random numbers according to http://www.random.org: 88 42 7 25 61 43

          And here is a series of rando numbers in the same range: 0 butts 101 ghey ☺ 101 HODOR!!!!!! 69 twelve

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Ohhh…. so I learned a new word today, thanks!


          2. Noumenon72 says:

            Lol, someone needs to program a rando number generator. Probably along the lines of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk except surveying randos.

  6. Sacae says:

    I’m in the camp that the power thing is a pacing thing.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Which is the same problem expressed differently. Proper pacing of a game is hard – it needs to keep us engaged, have a proper amount of quiet time, not feel like a grind fest, but not be over too fast.

      So basically we’re talking about devs sabotaging their own pacing, so you’ll pay extra to get the game to feel right. And, to Shamoose’s point, you’ll have legions of Internet dickheads telling people who complain about the pacing that they did it wrong and it’s their own fault the $60 game they played had so much grind.

      1. Tintenseher says:

        As mentioned above, other games (like Saint’s Row) have done this exact same thing (sidequests to unlock main quests). To say they’d do that kind of extortion isn’t out of the question, but EA is improving and I’m pretty sure they know turning something like Dragon Age into Dungeon Keeper Mobile would be suicidal.

  7. Neko says:

    I think the best “Multiplayer RPG” model is Neverwinter Nights. Make the story around a single-player campaign but allow your friends to jump in and experience it with you.

    1. Supahewok says:

      I think that started in the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale series of Infinity Engine games, actually. Although my Dad, brother, and I could never get it to work. It is, indeed, an ideal solution. It’s very much in flavor of the CRPG’s origins in P&P RPG’s.

      Unfortunately, (for me, at least) modern AAA RPG devs threw out their P&P influences over a decade ago in favor of chasing cinema with the rest of the industry. Your model pushes out the companions that Bioware spent hundreds of hours each designing, writing, animating, and voicing. Tell me, how can our game experience be complete without shots of Miranda’s ass in the middle of a mission?

  8. Attercap says:

    The DA:I power system is pretty equivalent to the various Saint’s Row games influence system–encouraging/forcing a modicum of side-quest play prior to advancing the story. I don’t really see it as a precursor to a monetized system in DA:I any more than I did with Saint’s Row. Could some of the negativity stem from the fact that Inquisition is now in the hands of BiowEAr, whose parent company has been known to force monetization of single-player games (ala Dead Space 3)?

    1. Tintenseher says:

      That’s where the majority of the negativity is stemming from. EA is notorious for this sort of money-grubbing, but I honestly think they’re improving.

  9. Grenaid says:

    Anyone else pissed at details like how screwed up the “valuables” category is?

    They streamline selling junk and old gear by automatically putting trash in the “valuables” category (and you can add old gear to it one item at a time if you get sick of seeing them in gear selection.) Then, you can “sell all” with one click at the vendor.

    Problem? ITEMS YOU NEED TO TURN IN to get bonuses against creatures and codex unlocks are all put in valuables automatically. Meaning you can’t safely use that streamlined feature.

    It’s like two different people looked at the “valuables” category and came to two totally different conclusions about what it was for.

    Reddit post if anyone is interested: https://www.reddit.com/r/dragonage/comments/2mvfbr/psa_dont_sell_your_valuables_before_you_visit_the/

    1. Classic says:

      Some may call this junk, me, I call it treasure.

    2. GiantRaven says:

      The whole UI is ridiculously frustrating. Why can’t I see the Armour/Weapons characters are wearing in the crafting and upgrade screens? I shouldn’t have to go into the inventory to unequip stuff so I can add upgrades or look up values.

      Absolute bleh.

      1. Tintenseher says:

        It’s still annoying, but while you’re at the upgrade screen you can still edit things people are equipped with – same as party or inventory screen, you can switch over in the top right.

        1. GiantRaven says:

          Huh, I could’ve sworn I tried that. Thanks! =D

          1. Tintenseher says:

            You know, it’s funny – immediately after posting that comment I went back tot the game and tried to do it myself, and I ended up unequipping everyone too. I was sure it worked once, but it may only be that way for your Inquisitor (you can definitely edit your own armor without unequipping it).

            I dunno. Weird.

  10. tmtvl says:

    “rando internet strangers”? I think you forgot an “m” there.

    But on a serious note, it’s kinda sad that there’s no new Old Bioware yet. Well, maybe Obsidian.

    1. HeroOfHyla says:

      I think rando is slang, like PUG (pick-up group).

        1. Daimbert says:

          He meant “Lando Internet strangers”. Which would be really, really cool … [grin]

  11. I remember an EA executive coming to Bioware-Austin when I worked there and giving a presentation about the company’s desire to move towards a “games-as-a-service” paradigm, supplanting the traditional idea of games being a “product”.

    That was back in 2010.

    I don’t think your theory is conspiratorial in nature, at all. I think it’s right on the nose.

    And it’s completely EA’s doing.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I wouldnt mind games turning into service instead of a product IF (and thats a big if) the price was adjusted for that.But having a service priced as a product?Nope.

      1. Ivan says:

        Honestly, I can’t see it working any other way. It used to make sense when consoles were producing cartridges that were a physical good with a limited supply, but now that so much of that is digital you essentially have an infinite supply and are still trying to use a supply and demand model. It only makes sense that we’re going to need to find new ways to sell games, and I am not completely opposed to the idea of games as a service either.

        Like you said though, if they want a $60 price tag AND micro-transactions… well I think i’ll just look somewhere else. I want to add to this though that I won’t be happy if they start to compromise the design of the game in order to fit in as many micro-transactions as possible.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Personally,Im an advocate for a $X/hour of gameplay fee.That way not only can you check out if you like the game for small bucks and drop it if you dont like it,it also encourages developers to make games with better end game/more replaybility.And,unlike freemium,they arent encouraged to sell you stuff that reduces waiting time,but rather to provide you content that can suck you in for hours and hours.

          Though the bad side of this is that some of my favorite games,like civiv,would end up costing me a fortune.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            Economically, that model would seem to make sense. Psychologically…for my own personal perception, that sort of model would seriously discourage me from playing games. Buying stuff causes me stress, and moving to $X/hour makes the stress constant rather than a one time calculation, even if it costs less money. I don’t want to constantly keep recalculating my budget if my gaming habits change.

            Also, from a business standpoint, that move would greatly reduce the returns on advertising dollars. As a consumer, I’d be happy with that, but I’m sure publishers would prefer to be able to use PR dollars to curb the losses on bad investments.

            1. Daimbert says:

              It’s actually bad for me because I calculate whether to get something on that calculation. It might sound like it would fit in well, but the lower that X, the happier I am. It being constant would reduce my happiness.

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            I dunno, it also feels like an incentive to stick things that artificially lengthen the game in the middle, once the player is sufficiently invested they would want to complete the game.

            Also, I think personally I would find this incredibly frustrating, basically any setback would start to translate into money wasted.

          3. Daemian Lucifer says:

            My guess is that neither of you two had video game rentals in your neighborhoods,because you think such a deal would be stressful.But its really not.

            1. Felblood says:

              I dunno man. rented or borrowed games just never worked for mw the way ones I could take my time with did, even as a kid who thought summers might last forever.

          4. Ranneko says:

            Really not in favour of that. In general I am a much bigger fan in general of short intense experiences. An industry built around a $/hour model is one built to prioritise game length over basically everything else.

            That kind of system incentivises either significant filler or high difficulty and repetition systems. The idea being to engage the player enough that they don’t want to move on, but not enough that they finish and become freed up to pursue a new game.

          5. Robyrt says:

            Paradox does this quite well – you can buy the opening campaign of Crusader Kings 2 for $10, and then each new campaign in a different area of the map or a different time period is another $10 expansion pack. I’ve probably spent $80 on the game for 250 hours, which is a fantastic value, and I still haven’t played the latest Charlemagne DLC. (I got kind of sick at staring at a map of Germany when I was the Byzantines, fighting the Holy Roman Emperor for control over who gets to say “Roman Empire” on their coins.)

        2. RTBones says:

          I can say for me, I am completely against the idea. Software is a PRODUCT, not a service. The minute game companies start charging me a subscription fee to play their (non-MMO) games is the minute I quit playing their games, period.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            “Software is a PRODUCT, not a service.”

            Tell that to any anti virus software,or plenty other continually supported software tools.

            1. Felblood says:

              Too much software is manufactured like a product, and too many of the people who claim to be changing that actually just want to produce products and then charge people for them on an ongoing basis, as though they had created and maintained a service.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Yes that is the big problem.It should stabilize though,once virtual goods age a bit and the laws governing them get refined.So in about 20 years or so.

    2. krellen says:

      “Software as a Service” is the worst thing to happen to computers since moths.

  12. Cilvre says:

    I think more of us should vote with our wallets. I haven’t purchased an EA game in quite a while now and it’s not going to change until they change. So likely never. I’d rather miss out on a potential good game then give them money to screw around with development and give us crap majority of the time.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Speaking of wallets here’s something interesting, I’ve spotted the DA:I box on the shelf in a store yesterday and something drew my attention. A little bit of research confirmed that at least around here the store bought PC copy is 20-25% cheaper than the one bought directly through Origin. That’s with the added cost of making the actual physical copy, the box, the shipping to the store, the store cut etc. Smooth EA, real smooth.

      1. Zagzag says:

        Even getting a digital download from pretty much anywhere online is going to cost you more than getting a boxed copy will in the UK. It is pretty ridiculous.

  13. Michael says:

    You keep saying that Bioware “turned its back” on its audience, but I don’t see how. Yeah, the gameplay is more shooter-oriented, but that’s never what Bioware was about. It was about the plot(geopolitical), the characters(memorable), and the setting(lore-filled), and those elements are still in these games. The schism you’re talking about doesn’t exist, and the so-called “Old Bioware” fans seem to consist only of you. I, for one, like both “old” and “new” Bioware.

    DA2 was troubling, to be sure, but one bad game does not establish a pattern of bad games. ME3 was not the fault of EA, but of Bioware’s producers (damn your ego, Casey Hudson!). And if you go look at the company’s older games with the usual extremely-nitpicky attitude, you’ll find that they’re just as “poorly” written as the newer games.

    Or maybe I’m too optimistic for my own good. Still, would it kill you to say something POSITIVE about Bioware once in a while?

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Bioware is great at making characters we love

      Another pentagonal Michael! I feel the whatever-atar system may be typecasting us. Aaaanyway – evidently not.

      1. Michael says:

        How are these images generated, anyway?

        1. MichaelGC says:

          It’s based off our email addresses – this post here mentions them:


          but for the full story put ‘gravatars’ into the search box at the top of the page, as the preceding posts about ‘wavatars’ explain it in a bit more detail, if I remember rightly (no guarantees on that! – I’ve a mind like a … thing. Kitchen thing you drain vegetables with).

          1. Shamus says:

            Here is more about how they’re made:


            Note that those articles are OLD. I wrote wavatars back in 2007, and since then they’ve been folded into the core WordPress functionality, so I no longer maintain them.

          2. Ivan says:

            Ah, I’ve been wondering about this for a while, it never occurred to me that is used a service from another website entirely… did it work?

            *Edit* Never mind, I can see that it worked now.

    2. Shamus says:

      “Yeah, the gameplay is more shooter-oriented, but that's never what Bioware was about.”

      To YOU.

      ” and those elements are still in these games. ”

      But to a lesser extent, or in a way that irritates a large number of people.

      ” The schism you're talking about doesn't exist, ”

      Because you’re not a part of it? Because you’ve decided that you’re not on one side or the other?

      Look, you can go back in my archives and see any number of threads on this topic. People who hate the new stuff, and people who didn’t like BioWare UNTIL the new stuff. The people who hated ME1 and loved ME2, and people who loved ME1 and hated ME2. The schism is obvious.

      Now, if you want to offer some other explanation for it, then fine. But you’re not going to convince me that the last four years of Bioware threads never took place. I should know. I moderated them.

      “Still, would it kill you to say something POSITIVE about Bioware once in a while?”

      I liked Mass Effect 1.

      1. tmtvl says:

        As an “Old Bioware” fan, Shamus is right.

        And at any rate, in any fanbase there will be schisms, some larger then others. The Bioware one is pretty big, but there’s smaller ones, e.g. people who like certain characters vs people who don’t like those characters.

      2. Michael says:

        Fair enough. By the way, do you think the founders leaving will affect the quality of the products? At the time they left, do you think they had become just a small cog in a big machine, or still an integral part of the process?

      3. Michael says:

        Still, I think that the core “Bioware experience” remains intact despite the major internal changes the company has gone through.
        (Sorry about the rant, I didn’t mean to sound so accusatory.)

        1. Shamus says:

          Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. :)

          I’d love to know (this is not sarcasm) what you think of as the Bioware experience, and which games are the “most Bioware-y”.

          1. Michael says:

            Well, the first Bioware game I played was KOTOR. Actually, it was one of the first games I played at all. So I tend to think of that as archetypal Bioware- third person, tactical turn-based combat, shocking twist, three or four different quests that make up the bulk of the game.

            I suspect, though, that whatever game one plays first is the style that they most prefer. “New” fans prefer actiony shooters, late 90s fans prefer D&D adaptions, etc. The elements I listed in my rant are the ones that I found to be universal in all the Bioware games I played, so I assumed (probably shouldn’t have done that) that that is what all Bioware fans wanted, and thus any game that contains those elements is a good Bioware game.

            1. Michael says:

              Oh, and a plot that uses a chaotic evil horde (Sith, Reapers, Darkspawn) to set up a political thriller.

            2. acronix says:

              The first Bioware game I played was Baldur’s Gate 2. I think it’s natural for the first game to shape your expectations of all the others. Case in point, BG2 didn’t really have many plot-changing decisitions. In fact, I can’t think of any beyond “get help from vampires or get help from thief guild”. And both those decision led to basically the same scenario (“kill the vampires!” or “kill the vampires but be unable to recruit the thief guild to help you!”)
              So to me the world-shaping decision making isn’t part of “Old” Bioware. Though maybe they were better at -implying- that your decision making changed the world when in fact it only affected the quest outcome or certain pieces of dialogue. There was nothing on the scope of what they did with the DA and ME series (where “important” decisions from one game move to the next).

              With that said, I think I jumped the schisms gap from liking Bioware to not liking them due to “critical story collapse” and forced character stupidity (hello, plot of ME2!) more than shifts in tone or gameplay methodology. I’m sure Baldur’s Gate 2 had plot holes and I’m quite sure my character might have acted like an idiot because I didn’t have a choice not to, but I failed to notice them in multiple playthroughs across various years. So it becomes a “better” game than anything Bioware has put out lately in virtue of the simple fact that I don’t notice that, behind the walls, the world and story are held in place with duct tape.

              1. Zekiel says:

                As a slight aside, I think Baldur’s Gate 2 was the real beginning of the binary “save baby/eat baby” moral choice-y thing that became a Bioware staple. Baldur’s Gate 2 provided quite a few quests that had a “good” and “evil” way of completing them. The logo for the game played up the “will you be good or evil?” duality. This binary moral choice system was then implemented much more widely in KOTOR (I can’t remember if it was present in any form in Neverwinter Nights?) and then – with modifications – appeared in Jade Empire and the Mass Effect games.

                Dragon Age Origins actually went some way to introducing a bit more nuance (there are, for instance, at least a couple of major decisions where you actually have THREE choices – groundbreaking stuff – and it doesn’t track your moral choices like previous games).

                1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                  Yeah but you can’t fault them for that I think. Its kind of built into DnD. And even if the Ultima series was offering more interesting and complex explorations of morality, it still wasn’t a common thing to codify moral choice into your game. I give them credit for attempting it, whatever came of it.

                  Dragon Age as a franchise at least is good about offering grey choices and not locking you into a moral play style.

                  1. Zekiel says:


                    As a nitpick (because this is the internet and I’m me) it is notable that D&D does at least give you two axes to base morality on (Law-Chaos as well as Good-Evil) but the second one is less intuitive. Planescape Torment did it pretty well though.

              2. Michael says:

                Interesting- I feel the same way about ME2. People keep saying that its plot has more holes than bullet-riddled Swiss cheese, but I’ve played through it a couple of times now, and I just don’t see it.

                1. acronix says:

                  That’s how critical story collapse functions, in a nutshell. It can break the whole thing for some while being ignored for others. Different people also have different “resistance” to plot holes and different willingness to “disbelief”. Mileage may vary and all that, I suppose.

                  1. Zekiel says:

                    I agree. I can appreciate Shamus’ gripes about ME2’s plot as being entirely valid, but it didn’t ruin the game for me – in fact its one of my favourite games.

                2. Zekiel says:

                  Well the big one is this – if you were planning on taking on some bad guys who use a big honkin’ ship and come through a mass relay where no-one else has ever been would you:
                  a) Try to get data on what’s on the other side of the relay so you can plan
                  b) Assemble a big fleet of ships to go through the relay and deal with them
                  c) Assemble a squad of ground-based specialist who you have no reason to believe will be of any help at all

                  But as I say above, I love the game and the nonsensical plot doesn’t spoil it for me.

          2. Vermander says:

            I’m coming at this from a similar angle as Michael. KOTOR was the first Bioware game I played. To me the core Bioware elements are a somewhat customizable protagonist, player choices (or at least the illusion of choice) which impact the plot, and memorable, well written companion characters. I feel like those elements are largely still intact.

          3. Chauzuvoy says:

            The first (and come to think of it, only) early Bioware game I’ve played all the way through is KotOR. But when I think of Bioware games, I reflexively include the sequels to some of the big ones (KotOR 2, NWN2), even though they were made by Obsidian. And the qualities I tend to associate with Bioware games are a hybrid of the strengths of the two, for better or worse.

            Bioware games to me have been RPGs with a focus on character. You’ve got decent options for customizing your PC, and the NPC companions are interesting and well-written. The setting and broader story tend to be less interesting but functional as a background for the more interesting character beats.

            And I feel like the newer Bioware games (that I’ve played, i.e. the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age: Origins) maintain that. Dragon Age: Origins follows it pretty closely, with an occasionally-interesting but mostly forgettable dark fantasy setting serving as a backdrop for a story about a bunch of interesting people. And of course everyone knows how great the companions in the Mass Effect series were, especially ME2, which is in my opinion the go-to example of game writing that focuses on it’s strengths. It had great companion writing and stories, and the main plot served chiefly as an excuse to get all these cool characters together and work through their interesting backstories.

            The thing that frustrates me about the new Bioware games isn’t that they’ve moved away from the interesting writing and great characters, but that they’ve added a bunch of extra baggage onto the game. I don’t hate third-person shooting, but it’s inclusion in the Mass Effect series meant that I was constantly shifting gears from being Commander Shephard Savior of the Galaxy to being Commander Shephard, Dude Shooter Extraordinaire. I very nearly ragequit ME3 in the last fight simply because the game I was playing was so radically far from the parts that I’d been enjoying. Even though KotOR’s combat could be frustrating and RNG-dependent like any D20 adaptation, it was at least in the same vein as the interesting dialogue/narrative stuff. You go from making narrative decisions based on your character’s perspective to making tactical decisions based on your party and character builds. In Mass Effect (and the other real-time Bioware games, as well), there’s a very real portion of it that’s skill-based. And not that I couldn’t get through it, but skillfully executing a challenge is engaging in a different way than carefully making a decision, and constantly switching between the two (at least in my opinion) makes it harder to really enjoy either. I get that the skill challenge appeals to a lot of people, but especially when I hit a difficulty spike I get really pissed off when I’m taken out of the interesting character-playing mode into “player, shoot those dudes” mode. Frankly, the shooting mechanics in ME2 and ME3 weren’t half bad from where I’m sitting. It just frustrated me to find myself shifting gears so often.

            1. John says:

              Oh, that makes so much sense. Thanks for writing that.

          4. Robyrt says:

            For me, the “core Bioware experience” is Mass Effect 1 or Dragon Age 1: clunky combat mechanics with impactful skill trees, a varied cast of well-written characters, and basically the same “Chosen One must travel the land to build support for the final battle” plot in every game. Bonus points if the wizard class is completely overpowered.

            So I like all 3 Mass Effect games about equally, which apparently makes me a rare duck. I miss some of the care that went into the Old Bioware settings and characters, but I really appreciate that New Bioware made the minute-to-minute gameplay fun.

            Having seen this exact process happen with From Software’s Souls games, a major motivation is money. Dark Souls 2 actually did sell millions more copies than Demon’s Souls, even though it is a substantially worse game. Why? A way bigger marketing budget, a better combat system, more content, and a system of preorder bonuses and DLC packs to encourage a full $60 purchase.

      4. kanodin says:

        I for one honestly thought the combat in dragon age 2 was the best gameplay bioware has done to date, awesome button and all. I am prepared to be my own schism on this matter. Note I say that having not had time for inquisition.

        1. IFS says:

          I sort of agree with you on that, I enjoyed Origin’s combat but it took me about an entire playthrough to have a feel for it, DA2 was much easier to understand and much more fun to watch. As for Inquisition my feelings on its combat are mixed compared to previous games, but overall very positive.

          Having played (well currently playing) Inquisition I will say that I like the combat in it quite a bit, but part of me still feels like parts of it was better in 2. That said it could be nostalgia (I quite enjoyed DA2 though I will admit it is very flawed/rushed). They do a good job of letting you switch between tactical view and third person smoothly and the fact that health isn’t freely restored after every fight works quite well with the emphasis on exploration (suddenly random encounters become about coming out without taking much damage rather than about taking up time) and the guard/barrier mechanics work well with that.

          That said the abilities generally feel, I dunno lackluster compared to previous games, a lot of the interesting ones are locked behind specializations that take a while to unlock (the side quest to unlock a specialization is also rather annoying imo). Finally as far as I can tell you can’t select abilities easily in combat if they aren’t in the quickselect bar, which annoys me.

          In general though the combat is pretty good, though I plan to replay the first two after I finish Inquisition so that might alter my opinions somewhat.

      5. stratigo says:

        I have never got this. I mean sure, ME2 had some bad things. So did ME1. Why are the bad things of ME2 bad in a particular way that gets your goat, while the ME1 bad things aren’t? Especially in a story sense (since bioware has been writing the same hero’s journey story for a decade now). Is it just cerberus?

    3. Supahewok says:

      ^In total agreement with Shamus up there, but I would argue that the schism was earlier than what he believes. He thinks it happened all of a sudden on the release of ME2. Lately, I’ve been drawn more and more to the idea that the true schism took place when Bioware made the switch from turn-based gameplay to real-time gameplay. Bioware games have never strictly been turn-based but all of the under-the-hood mechanics in BG, KOTOR, and NWN ran in turns. (Exceptions were MDK2 (which I think could be considered protoBioware at this point) and maybe Jade Empire? I suspect that there’s some stuff that goes in turns in JE but its been years since I played it) Mass Effect 1 and Dragon Age: Origins were a transition state. Neither had RPG elements as strong as their predecessors, with the inventory and leveling system in ME1 being rather lame (along with the introduction of the damn dialogue wheel) and DA:O playing like single-player WoW, with camera perspective and character leveling options being severely curtailed. Its not a mistake that the RPG mechanics in both of them further suffered in their respective sequels, but that’s the point were the non-grognards sat up and took notice.

      1. Michael says:

        What’s MDK2?

  14. MichaelGC says:

    I’d assumed the multiplayer microtransactions worked exactly like the ME3 MP ones, which were not ideal but also far from required. This potion nonsense sounds much closer to being a requirement! I played a bazillion hours of ME3 MP but I’m not touching DA:I MP if that’s the case. (Plus I’ve seen it streamed and it appeared to pretty much suck. So it’s win-win!)

    I’m still reasonably sure they had microtransactions in single-player at one stage, or that Phill (who put it a lot better than I did in yesterday’s DC thread) is correct, and they left it late to decide:


    We can’t be certain either way, of course, but I’m a little happier thinking they’re already edging away from the idea, rather than nudging us towards it…

    1. stratigo says:

      Being honest… I haven’t found it to be true. What you spend the gold you get in mission on are chests, and chests come with enough potions that you should never run out. No real money changes hands. And, as far as I can tell, potions are limited to 2 a mission, so you can’t binge potions your way to success, which if you could, would run you out of potions fast, but you can’t, so doesn’t factor in.

  15. Xythe says:

    “The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author, Shamus Young, and do not reflect the opinions of The Escapist or Defy Media”

    Not seen that on one of your articles before. Is this the kind of soft pressure that made Jim Sterling feel he couldn’t do business with them anymore?

    1. Otters34 says:

      Since the whole article is a super-bitter joke about a terrible, ugly and cynical game system, I bet it’s just another part of said joke. And perhaps a safeguard in case anyone goes “Escapsed is bye-assed!!1”

      1. MichaelGC says:

        I think the real footer question is that for the nth week running, “crank” didn’t get a hyperlink…

  16. RedSun says:

    I really, really don’t like this romanticization of “Old Bioware”.

    Baldur’s Gate had very little story, especially when contrasted against the amount of wandering and murdering random bandits that you do.
    Baldlur’s Gate 2 had a lot more story and a lot of it was fresh, surprisingly good and created a vibrant, fun world to explore . It’s astronomically better than the first.
    Neverwinter Nights has very little story and what is there isn’t original or particularly compelling. In terms of story, it’s a clear step back.
    KOTOR has a good twist, one funny character and a whole lot of uninteresting mush. It’s better than Neverwinter Nights, but by today’s standards, it’s a pretty dull affair.
    Jade Empire has a good twist, a decent cast and creates a pretty ;it’s also the first game that might arguably be up to the standards of Baldur’s Gate 2.

    And I haven’t played MDK2. The point is, the quality of Bioware’s writing is not some straight line that started depressing after ME2. They’ve written a fair amount of crap in between the good stuff, and I think a lot of their recent stuff faces scrutiny that’s a lot higher than that of the older games due to better writing in the industry.

    Basically, if you’re going to act like DA2 or SWTOR is some kind betrayal of design, and then praise Baldur’s Gate or KOTOR…maybe grab a fresh pair of glasses beforehand, because you might be experiencing some shading issues.

    1. Shamus says:

      See, I’ve never even played Baldur's Gate, and I thought Neverwinter Nights was amazingly tedious. I’m not romanticizing it at all. I’m just acknowledging a fanbase that has been left behind.

      This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m just trying to describe market observations and everyone feels the need to divide stuff into “bad” and “good”. We can hate on Baldur's Gate all you like, but it’s not going to make the old-school Bioware fans like the new games.

      1. Vermander says:

        If Bioware’s output has declined in quality or was overrated to begin with, then what studios or developers are doing a better job with this type of game? I guess I’ve come to think of Bioware games as their own genre and I can’t really think of anyone else that makes similar games. Telltale doesn’t let you customize the protagonist, Bethesda has terrible NPCs, Obsidian seems to be most famous for making upgraded versions of other studio’s games.

        I ask because I do get frustrated with Bioware games, but thus far I haven’t found anything that I like more.

        1. Zekiel says:

          I think Obsidian are still the go-to alternative. They make similar games but with (generally) more varied characters (I love Bioware’s, but they are often archetype-y). Obsidian have tended to do upgrades for other people’s games, but they do upgrade them. I found Fallout New Vegas to be massively better than Fallout 3, KOTOR 2 to be far more interesting than KOTOR, people rave about how great Mask of the Betrayer (for NWN2) was… etc etc. They also do branch out into their own games occasionally like Alpha Protocol and forthcoming Pillars of Eternity.

          The caveat is that with all of their output I’ve mentioned above, you get that old school Bioware feel of slightly substandard combat…

        2. Felblood says:

          Ever since DW Bradley and Richard Garriot disappeared up their own assholes, there really hasn’t been any other game in town.

          Bioware was the most western of the WRPG developers, and with more and more devs jumping ship for for the JRPG, Diablo-like, GTA-like, shooter and Crafty-craft bandwagons, it’s getting pretty lonely and desolate in classic WRPG fan town. We can only re-play Wizardry 7 so many times, and Legend of Grimrock scratches a completely different kind of itch.

          It’s not really that Bioware was the best at what they did because they were so great. They were the best at what they did because no one else was really doing it. With them gone, there’s this huge vacuum left in the marketplace.

          1. stratigo says:

            Indies are rushing to fill it.

            I’d suggest Divinity Original sin. Is a fantastic old school style game. Heck I’d suggest shamus play it too. With a buddy. If he get the time. It’s a long game.

      2. Michael says:

        The problem is, you’re constantly writing about the flaws in the new stuff, but not the old stuff, so it creates the illusion that you think the old stuff is good.

        1. SgtRalph says:

          Not really. The old stuff is, well, old. The new stuff is current and more relevant to more people. It’s more likely to be fresh in his mind and fresh in the reader’s mind than a 16 year old game. That said he has done a write up on flaws in Neverwinter Nights 2 a few years back.

      3. Darren says:

        See, I think you are missing what he’s saying. If your complaints are as much about the storytelling as the mechanics, I think he’s absolutely right that you don’t have a great case. If your complaints are that the mechanics of Bioware’s output have dramatically and consistently changed, well, that’s a different argument entirely.

        Honestly, I have a difficult time completely buying your idea of a schism. I’ve played KotOR, Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2, and Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition. Each of these games does different things. Each franchise does different things. The closest thing to a constant is well-written companions, but that’s not really a feature in either Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights (pre-expansion).

        Mass Effect is definitely worth talking about as it stands out as very different from the rest, but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I’d prefer for a company to be able to foster different styles of play than constrain every team to do the same thing. That path leads to something like Rockstar, where even a game set in the Old West just shoehorns in GTA features and mechanics.

        1. guy says:

          New Bioware gave us having to work for Cerberus, not getting to kill Anders, and Kai Leng.

          1. stratigo says:

            You get to kill anders

        2. Felblood says:

          It’s that strategic combat and convoluted leveling. Jade empire wraps it in a lot of real-time button mashy stuff, Mass Effect 1 really only paid lip service to these ideals, and Mass Effect 2 openly blasphemes them.

          I know that for people who don’t care about (or even are glad to be rid of) that, this seems like a minor quibble, but you have to understand that this was the total package. Some people can’t enjoy having 90% of what they want, becasue all they’ll think about is why can’t they have the last 10% to make their experience complete.

          It’s like this: Imagine you are a Mahjong (real <Mahjong, not Solitaire with Mahjong tiles) addict in a poker greenroom.

          You can sit down at a stud poker table and get most of what your want. You could gamble away your entire retirement check playing a draw/discard game against 3 opponents, who you try to read/bluff in order to outmaneuver them, but it still won’t scratch your itch.

          You’d find yourself missing aspects of the game that the poker players would consider themselves fortunate to not have to fuss with. Sliding 144 stone tiles around on the tabletop, and stacking them in a double row that symbolizes the Great Wall of China? Surely, we could just shuffle and deal 52 cards. A 13 tile hard, built over several rounds of drawing and discarding? That would make each hand take forever. You’d be lucky to play 3 or 4 hands a night.

          A prevailing wind mechanic that controls who the dealer is based on how many consecutive rounds he can win, and award him a potentially massive score multiplier for doing so? Seriously, a wind direction mechanic, that gives a score multiplier? –and it also controls the value of certain types of hands depending on where I’m sitting? Isn’t this all needlessly convoluted?

          Well yes, it is needlessly convoluted, mostly to make it easier for Japanese merchants to fleece gullible Dutch sailors. I mean, Confucius
          designed it to be an extended metaphor for man’s struggle to fulfill his duties in the face of fate, but then the Japanese added some other mechanics, likely on the grounds that their current opponent was too drunk to argue that the ancient and honored rule, which they’d just made up, and clearly states that they just lost two rounds worth of ante, but they can win it all back if they can Shoot the Moon on the very next hand.

          But isn’t needless convolution what makes games games? I mean, if it was just about winning each other’s money we could just flip a coin, or play the slot machines. It’s a matter of finding a type and amount of convolution that feels right.

          I guess what I’m saying is that I’d have ignored a lot more plotholes in ME3 if it’d been able to distract myself with the weapon customization mechanics from KOTOR2.

          1. newplan says:

            “…gullible Dutch sailors”


            There’s a reason no one else in history has ever used that phrase.

            Spot on with the rest of the comment though.

      4. Galad says:

        Oh, NWN1’s campaign was nothing special, even to my wide-eyed young eyes back then. But the moods..

        The mods, man.

        At least the top 10-20 or so.

        I still remember them fondly like (almost) nothing else

    2. Blovsk says:

      FWIW, BG’s story is really standard fantasy conspiracy quest stuff given legs by the protagonist’s background. It’s nothing astonishing but it works well enough and it isn’t really trying as bloody-mindedly as Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age 2 to be something mind-blowing. Also there’s a really cool tonal progression from BG 1’s generic fantasy to TSOTSC’s horror to BG 2’s dark fantasy.

      Neverwinter Nights was pretty lousy. Terrible story, not exactly the best gameplay, didn’t look great, far too long.

      As far as the old-school vs. new-school Bioware goes, I think it’s more complicated than that. Like, my conception of truly classic Bioware games is basically the Black Isle/Infinity Engine ones, tacking on KOTOR for how a lot of its concepts are iterations on the earlier games and NWN as the rickety bridge between them.

      Jade Empire, Dragon Age and Mass Effect feel like mid-period games to me, each representing a stab at a more cinematic experience with rich worldbuilding, mechanical experimentation and so on. I just can’t play through these games as much as the older ones. The mechanics don’t hold up as well, there’s less freedom, moving around is more time-consuming and the whole thing’s laden with slow time-consuming story chunks. I <3 Jade Empire, I <3 Dragon Age, I'm sort of ambivalent about ME 1 (great twist but otherwise didn't hook me, OK gameplay, a lot of big weaknesses, dialogue wheel) but they're all way beyond my idea of what a great Bioware game is. For a lot of others, those are the classics.

      I've stopped buying Bioware games now. I liked ME 2 more than 1 much as I think the story's a lot weaker, was so miffed by the terrible writing and lack of choice evidenced in the DA 2 demo that I didn't get that game, didn't care about ME 3 (and feel justified in that from the Spoiler Warning season) and this new one…

      Anyway, yeah, I agree that the writing's not a linear trend but I do think that after DA, Jade Empire and ME 1 you see a really big change in their approach to writing that I'm not a fan of. I think their recent stuff faces more scrutiny more because they themselves big it up so much and because it's a much more intrusive/involved part of the game experience than when you could just mouse through text storytelling.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “And I haven't played MDK2. The point is, the quality of Bioware's writing is not some straight line that started depressing after ME2.”

      That is correct actually.It is a straight line that doesnt go up or down.It was always excellent characters+crap/boring main story.

    4. Kalil says:

      I really liked the open-world stuff in Baldur’s Gate, and found BG2 to be extremely constraining and stuffy by comparison. Also, I thoroughly despised pretty much every companion in the latter game, but felt compelled to include them in my party because of my completionistic OCD, and I was repelled by the cheap emotional shot of the torture scene at the very beginning. BG1’s story was not terribly memorable – mostly just an excuse for moving through the game and for a nice set of Forgotten Realms cameos (Hi there, Elminster!). Like the Elder Scrolls games, it merely provided a scaffold to build the open world experience on.

  17. Andrew says:

    Is this DA:I multiplayer scam a real thing? Charging actual dollars for something so fundamental as health pots? If true it is utterly objectionable..

    I have DA:I. I’ve sunk more than 20 hours into the single player campaign so far and while I don’t love it, I certainly like it more than the past 4-5 Bioware titles but I can’t comprehend how this multiplayer stuff could be true!

    I guess what I’m asking is whether the whole article is meant to be a cynical look at our potential future or if it’s actually meant to be read as fact.

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s real.

      Technically you’re not “supposed” to drink them “often” and the game is “not that hard” once you “know what you’re doing”. (All quotes from other players who “haven’t had any problems”.

      Are they reflexive apologists? I dunno. I’ve only played a few rounds and I’m out of potions. I have enough money now for an upgrade, or a potion refill. Maybe if I played a few more rounds it would all click, but I’m really irritated at the whole thing.

      1. Andrew says:

        I can’t even think of an appropriate word to describe just how that makes me feel. Disappointed isn’t nearly strong enough.

        It’s even worse than Pay-to-win games guising as Free-to-play because the ‘free’ element is still there and the ‘win’ objective is generally still achievable if you’re willing to grind your life away.

        This Bioware model feels more like pay-to-play, pay-some-more-to-play, and then pay-again-to-win.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          One tiny shining light in the mere is that the multiplayer has no impact at all on the singleplayer. There’s no ‘Thedasian Readiness’ nor any such [string of expletives]. Which is something. Something!

          1. Supahewok says:

            It really isn’t. Don’t give EA/Bioware credit where it isn’t due. If you care about Bioware’s future, (I don’t, not anymore) give ’em hell. (Within reason, don’t go off the deep end) Tell them that any monetization of their game is not okay, regardless of the impact it has on the “main” game.

            See, this is how exploitative business practices creep into an industry. Do something terrible. Get screamed at. Do something not terrible, but merely bad. Watch as some people continue to scream, only to have some people tell them “At least its better, they’re listening to us!” Continue to watch as continued opposition to your practices divides itself then falls apart. Continue being merely Bad, with the customers consoling themselves by saying “Well, remember the time they were Terrible? At least we’re not dealing with that, right?”

            Its standard negotiation tactics. Offer a deal that the other side won’t accept, and pretend to fight for it, but give way bit by bit until you reach a “compromise” that is the deal you were aiming for all along. Let the other side think they talked you down, you got what you wanted.

            God, I’m bitter tonight.

            1. Mephane says:

              The real tragedy is that the same tactic is applied in politics, too.

      2. IFS says:

        I’ve only played a little of Inquisition’s multiplayer myself with a couple friends, and I have to say I think a big part of the problem is that the game expects you to fail repeatedly to level up enough to take on the dungeons. So what happens is you don’t realize you’re set up to fail initially, waste your potions on those attempts and not make enough gold to buy new ones and give up. It is really poorly designed, which is sad because the multiplayer is actually pretty decent once you’ve leveled up enough to make progress. So yeah it sort of is a ‘play a few rounds before it clicks’ thing but that’s not set up very well at all and is communicated very poorly. You also do need a group of at least three as far as I can tell, since the game does not seem to scale enemies down, or if it does it doesn’t scale them down enough.

        1. Tintenseher says:

          This. There’s no way you’re getting through a dungeon until you have the armor, weapons, and stats to get through. It’s much less forgiving than Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, where a team of low-level characters could pretty regularly make it through every wave if nobody horribly screwed up.

          But they don’t give you that indication. You expect to be able to finish a dungeon with a full party as long as you’re smart and are careful with your potions, but you really need to save them for when you have a chance of finishing and instead focus on getting more loot for that fateful day.

          I’ve actually found the multiplayer very fun.

      3. Sacae says:

        Iono the multiplayer is still hard for me, still havent gotten to zone four and playing with only me and my one friend.

        Its still hard lol but Im having fun hitting my head to the wall. Im weird. I also plan to always play free only, so I guess itll always be some level of hard.

      4. Disc says:

        If the potions are in function at all similar to the various consumable items in ME3 multiplayer, then they’re (probably) not entirely wrong. In ME3, they can give you an advantage and occasionally save you from certain failure but in the ideal situation you don’t REALLY need them. To be fair though, the “ideal situation” is not something the game teaches you in ME3 either. It’s something you only learn by playing and analyzing the gameplay.

      5. John says:

        Posts like that make me hate the Internet a little.

        I wish Internet types could accept that other people are in fact often sincere. Consider: a person who is wrong on the Internet may be mistaken rather than malicious! Or: a person whose critical judgement differs from your own may not be implying that your morals and values are incorrect!

      6. Deadpool says:

        To be fair… Health pots are CHEAP in multiplayer. You can fail a run and get enough gold to buy five health pots (you can only bring two per mission). 250 gold is DIRT cheap.

        I don’t like the way they did the multiplayer either. I still enjoy it because I enjoy playing games with my friends. I’d rather have someone else controlling my party in the main campaign than this though.

      7. stratigo says:

        It isn’t you’re supposed to not rink them often. You get two a mission, you can’t consume more. The average mission nets you enough gold to buy a medium chest. Said chest has 3 potions, randomized though seemingly weighted to health.

        I’m most certainly not any good, but I haven’t run into a super large issue in managing potions. Course I don’t take them until the BS boss fight at the end (since you heal between each ‘zone’). There’s no scale. Venatori boss, super easy, demon boss, really bloody hard. Its annoying.

  18. I tried playing DA:O, but it seemed really clunky to me. Some people told me I had to learn how to use my NPCs better in combat, some said they weren’t really all that necessary.

    But the biggest thing I found that bugged me about the game’s structure was having a mute protagonist that you saw “talking while not saying anything” in 3rd person with other voiced NPCs. Keeping the camera in 1st person in Skyrim and Fallout doesn’t jar my suspension of disbelief as much as seeing my avatar apparently communicating telepathically with everyone around them.

    And the wizard hats were really ugly. :)

    1. Supahewok says:

      DA:O got so much easier for me once I actually stopped and figured out how to make scripts for my companion’s actions. DA:O is indeed very clunky, you can’t micromanage each party member effectively. That’s why they made the scripting system, but they never push it on you. I think 90% of the people who dislike its combat (including myself) would have had a much better time if we’d actually used scripts. You don’t even need to make very many, something as simple as the Shield Guy using his knockdown ability as soon as it recharges is immensely helpful.

      Yeah, that’s exactly the reason why dialogue trees are mostly dead. I didn’t mind it a lot but it did bother me a little and I can see it bothering other people a lot more.

      What, are you kidding? ALL the hats were really ugly. :)

      1. guy says:

        I wasn’t thrilled with the scripting system in Dragon Age. The conditionals were way too simple and it felt less like an innovative system than a lazy excuse not to write companion AI. My favorite example is from DA2, but I imagine the equivalent spell in Origins has the same issue: when I scripted Merril to use her AoE spell that damaged people by manipulating their blood against groups of enemies, she kept using it on things that did not have any blood. I’m not sure there even was a condition for “target has blood”, and in any case that couldn’t be combined with the condition to target groups. That might seem like a rather specific issue, but it affected what’s pretty much the best spell, and the same principle applies to all AoEs that are of variable utility against different kinds of targets.

        1. Supahewok says:

          Oh I don’t doubt that the system has issues, its not a miraculous panacea for all of the game’s combat. It does help a lot though, even if you just give the most basic of script commands and save the AoE attacks for yourself for more precise positioning. (Which is what I’ve done in my recent ongoing playthrough)

          I mean, can you even imagine trying to play without it, despite its warts? I honestly can’t anymore.

      2. IFS says:

        In the meantime the game got easier for me when I just started micromanaging more and figuring out how to chain party members abilities together, since I always felt the scripting was inadequate. It does help certainly but only to a point, and you have to pause occasionally and watch allies HP to manage fights effectively.

        Seconding every hat being ugly in DA, it is a series tradition at this point that has proudly been continued into Inquisition.

        1. Sacae says:

          This is why they also always have the hide helmet choice. They very well know the hats are horrible.

  19. markh says:

    The power system is just a way of pacing access to new areas and story content. I think Baldurs Gate 2 had a similiar structure where you do sidequests to generate enough money to move onto Act Two.

    It makes some of the sidequest content more relevent to the main storyline. And allows you to pick what you want to complete.

    I disagree with how negative Rutskarn is about it. I am really enjoying the game. I don’t see it as a really bad MMO. I am a fan of the series. So the expansive locations are an opportunity to savour wandering around with companions or explore locations from the DA universe.

    Dragon Age Origins had relatively tiny locations but I remember wandering around Redcliffe looking at its lake or imagining Alistair growing up there. So this is a perfect game for me since I already find meaning in its world. Also in DA2 the main thing I liked was the Cassandra and Varric cutscenes and now I get them both as party members.

    1. Steve C says:

      Rutskarn doesn’t like MMOs so there’s no such thing as a good MMO in his world. He went into it with the expectation that he wasn’t going to be playing anything like an MMO. It was disappointing to him to bite into it and find a nugget of MMO. I can’t blame him for that as it’s a valid criticism. It’s the same as going to a movie and expecting one thing from the trailers and getting something very different.

      I was very disappointed in the Ratchet and Clank racing game because I expected a platformer. I like platformers. I do not like racing games.

    2. Zeriel says:

      The fundamental problem is “side quests” in earlier Bioware games mean “quests that are just as interesting if not more so than the main quest, but are not directly related to your overarching challenge”. Here they mean “tedious busywork that has almost zero narrative attached”.

      It’s a world of difference.

      1. Tintenseher says:

        Every “earlier” BioWare games had their fair share of fetch quests, collections, and other filler. Those were always there, and they always will be, because it’s how you fill up an RPG. What’s changed is not the quality of sidequests but the proportion and presentation.

        Inquisition is stupidly massive, and the ratio of interesting sidequests to busywork sidequests scales. There’s a multitude of great sidequests to do, but there’s also a pile of “go here, get that” and “find ten of these”. But since the game world is so huge, you just find the latter more than you find the former, whereas in older games the areas were small enough that you could reasonably expect to find an interesting quest for every two or three uninteresting ones. Here it’s more like one good one for seven or eight boring ones.

        I also suspect that a lot of people see the non-cinematic conversations (any convo where the camera doesn’t change – talking to your companions at home base, for example) and immediately zone out a little bit. Which is fair – it’s how you get a lot of the standard stuff, like your requisition officer’s requests. Truth is that a lot of the conversations that look like that are connected to some pretty awesome quests, like the dragon researcher in the Western Approach.

        Edit: Wow, fixed a lot of spelling mistakes. Sorry, I’m on mobile and Chrome is lagging to pieces on this site.

  20. Eric Jensen says:

    Hey guys,

    I’m pretty far into the game (I don’t know why) and here are my impressions.

    The first option in the game I had was: do I have a choice. Cassandra said no one has a choice and that put this game in context. I went into this game not expecting an RPG like the witcher 2 or planescape or KOTOR 2 and, while there are plenty of problems, overall I am having a positive experience. Still, most of the good has been talked about, but not much has been said about the failings.


    It’s a combination of several RPG elements. You have campfires and limited potions in dark souls. It has the grind awesome points like ME3. It has diablo/wow attacks. It has a tactical camera. It has an organization management thing like a free to play facebook game.

    I sort of seeing what they were going for; they wanted to make a single player experience of a WoW 5 man (ok, 4 man) group with stay out the fire spatial gameplay. Unfortunately, this game fails to bring these mechanics together into a cohesive whole. Why I wouldn’t call it is missmash, I would say that the designer’s intentions weren’t realized. Let’s add to this the fact, however, that the game has some of the worst controls I’ve seen in a while. I mean, some of the fights are boarder line unplayable.

    Another issue is that the difficulty, when the controls are working with you, is laughably easy (playing on nightmare).

    Alot of people say that the game gets better after the hinterlands, but honestly the go here, kill him, go here, get this, hohum doesn’t change.

    The story is pretty meh. First, there are no interrupts. Second, the game is big on the railroading. If you do not care about their big stupid demonhole plot and want to do something else, sorry, out of luck.

    I just did a companion side quest with Cassandra. I like Cassandra, but her quest raised the Mass Effect 2 plothole wtf alarms big time. I also remember, saying out loud, WHERE IS MY PARAGON INTERRUPT.

    Still, the game does do something well. The sound design and score are simply excellent. The world is so pretty and I can tell the team put alot of love into it. There are definitely many thing to enjoy, but overall this game needs more criticism. Companions are up to “bioware standards” I’d say. I like Blackwell alot, actually. He is sort of like the old coot jedi from KOTOR, but a little more rugged. He’s a lawful good character who’s not lawful stupid. Varric I like (i never played DA2), and Dorian brings a nice touch of cynicism to the game.

    So, I’d say this game is somewhere between a big really pretty world and a tedious and broken mess.

    Ok, comments on the podcast:

    Sera: sorry Mumbles, Sera annoyed the heck out of me. To be fair, it’s my personality, not hers. In table top I’m usually a lawful type dude because it feels natural to me. I will give her this credit: I didn’t like her character is a point towards her writing.

    I will say that bioware games in general don’t feel like they represent that “side of tradition” as well as the opposition. I mean, I talked to one lady and asked why are all the clergy in the Chantery were women, and she was like “oh we’re trying to change that.” Ok, that’s cool but there is always a better reasons than “oh that’s how they’ve always done it.”

    Bugs: fair number of crashes, the game also has a habit of teleporting me next to an enemy when I try to get a tactical highground position. I didn’t really see many cutesy Skyrim bugs, just crashes and annoying teleports.

    Destruction: There was supposed to be alot of terrain involvement in combat, but it’s not really there. I think that is one area games can really explore: changing your terrain in combat. A friend and I were working on a MOBA mod for SC2 that did that, but we got too busy IRL. We had a trailor for it though, if anyone cares.

    Guy of Gondor Song: OH JUST WAIT! I am not spoiling for you, but get ready to grooooaaaannnnn. FYI, the game crashed right after that part, and I had to do it all again.

    Supersmash bros: I might end up getting a wiiu. Strangely enough, the games I’m interested in are on PC or WIIU, with the exception of bloodbourne.

    BG: I liked BG2 more so because I could cast a bunch of cool spells. I got timestop, wish, spell sequencer, and a bunch of crazy stuff. When i think of the “old RPGs” I liked, I mostly am thinking of Planescape. Yeah, it was reading a book, but all being said it was a pretty good book and the world was enthralling.

    Sorry for the long post. Love these diecasts!

    1. Deadpool says:

      I like Sera, and her inclusion in this game was great.

      In a game that is all about big events and big ideas. Big people doing big things and big decisions and fate of the world. And here we have Sera as sort of the voice of the common person. It’s easy to forget this is still a feudal society. The whole Celene, Gaspard and Briella situation may be massively important, but to 99% of the population who is busy farming and cooking and cleaning up shit from the streets, it makes very little difference.

      Sera routinely reminds the Inquisitor and the player about the average man.

      Plus she’s adorable. I eat cookies on the roof with her every time I go visit Skyhold…

  21. Jay says:

    this sounds kind of conspiracy theory-ish

    There’s nothing crazy about acknowledging that Bioware has a marketing department who scheme brainstorm ways to maximize revenue on each game.

  22. MaxEd says:

    DA3 came out on PC… And I haven’t event heard about it until 5 days after the fact. Because it’s not on Steam :)

    And since it’s not on Steam, there is no sane regional price for this game.

    Also, I’ve heard a lot of bad things about game’s DRM… Does it really save games in the cloud and requires persistent internet connection? If so, I’m not getting this until pirates could offer a crack, or maybe not at all. I’m not giving money to people who push such shit on us.

    Concerning the matter of this post… Multiplayer? Microtransactions? This game sounds worse by the second :(

    1. Artur CalDazar says:

      It does save to the cloud but you can turn that off if you want.

      I’ve been able to play offline with no issues, when I reconnected it said there was a discrepancy between my cloud data and local data and asked if I wanted one to override the other, but I just turned the feature off entirely.

    2. Zagzag says:

      As has been stated above it saves in the cloud by default, but there’s no always online requirement. If you set your origin to offline mode then it works just fine. I’ve played through the entire game in offline mode so far and I’ve not had any issues.

      1. MaxEd says:

        OK, so it’s not as bad as I thought. Thank you.

  23. Wintermood says:

    Hi Shamus (and everyone willing to read this :) ),
    As a DA:I owner, I am a little confused. I sunk around 20 hours into the singleplayer (not-topic) and tried the multiplayer some times (hot-topic). This just to show that I know what I am speaking of.

    Regarding the multiplayer as a whole: It is a reskinned ME 3 one in a fantasy world – only the mission pacing is different: it is no wave-based defense and more active exploration, which is fine.

    The MT shop works like the ME 3 one – you buy chests (booster packs) with more or less usefull stuff. But as in ME 3 in most (all?) equipment chests, there are also potions. So you want a new shiny sword, you have to collect money and buy an equipment chest and hope it is in there – and while opening chests you amass (yes!) potions. I was not aware that there are dedicated potion chests? That at least makes no sense.

    The cost for a booster pack … err equipment chest with a higher chance on uncommon or even rare equipment is low enough to buy one of those chests with the gold collected in one 4/5 game (that is one game where one gets to area 4 of 5 and then party wipes) and one 2/5 game (happened to me a few days ago – I have yet to win a game :) )

    BUT: that you get potions from equipment chests is NOWHERE explicitly stated, as far as I know. So if there are potion chests, that is fishy as hell.

    Thanks for reading.

    P.S.: Are the monsters really getting stronger when one player dies? I think, I did not encounter this in “routine” difficulty.
    P.P.S.: Whenever I read a shamus article about bioware and the comments below it I have to remind myself: “They hate because they care” :)
    P.P.P.S.: Shamus, what do you think about Numenera?

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Waait, they’re not just demanding money for potions, but they also turned buying items into a gamble?

      Screw that game.

      1. IFS says:

        It is actually stated that the basic chests you buy contain some potions in the description of what assortment of items you can expect from it (or at least I remember that being the case), and you can also craft items to get around the random chance thing, to an extent.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          “Yeah, we have this incredibly shitty store, but to alleviate that, we put some time into a gameplay mechanic that will allow you — if you play well — to make it somewhat less shitty!”

          I think I’d totally go for that …

          If I go into a real store, yeah, sometimes I’ll have to buy the proverbial cat in a bag, but I never ever buy a bag of things of which I have only loose indication of what they are. If I need a wrench for the kitchen sink, then I do not go and buy a “Box of Tools” and hope that it has a wrench. I buy the effing thing I want (which might still turn out to be not as good as believed). In gameland, the developer knows precisely what everything is. Not telling the player is just generally despicable.

          … why, how did you know I’m not playing Magic: the Gathering?

          1. Wintermood says:

            It is funny, as an avid MtG player I have absolutly no problem with buying booster for ingamemoney to get items. :) At the same time, I can buy (and prefer it) a wrench when I need one without getting a nervous tick. ;)

            It seems to me, there is significant amount of people into this chance game, since ME 3 was the same and it is still played and gambled in the store.

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              I’ve always wondered … when I figured out how M:TG worked financially, I thought it was an obvious scam, but there must be people enjoying it. Is that a similar thing as gambling or betting? I can’t get my head around why people would do that, either; but I don’t think my initial explanation back in the day, “they’re probably stupid enough to fall for a cheap trick”, is very solid…

              1. Wintermood says:

                Magic has the “Game” where you assemble a deck and play it – Here the defining factor to win is the deck building skill and the ability to create a successfull strategy with the given cards while in the game. You have to remember, not only are the booster randomized, the game itself has a chance based system because you have to make do with what you draw out of a shuffles 60+ card deck.

                And Magic has the “Meta Game” where you compare your built deck against others.

                Aaaand Magic has the “Meta-Meta Game” where you inform yourself about the cards in a new block and build a (or more) deck(s) in your head (or look after new cards for your existing decks. Then you buy some booster packs or even a display and you feel excitement and many other positive emotions while opening booster because you hope to get what you want and at the same time think what you can do with the cards you really get. It is hard to explain I guess. :)

                At the same time, there are even plays you can do with boosterpacks that are games itself. It is interesting. :)

  24. Kavonde says:

    I’m not looking forward to the seemingly inevitable series of “Shamus picks the latest Bioware game to shreds,” which seems to have been kicked off with this discussion of the game’s multiplayer. Not to say that he’s wrong about anything he said–though in my limited experience the community hasn’t become as toxic as he’s predicted/seen. Shamus is very rarely wrong about any of his criticisms when it comes to Bioware games. It just always kinda depresses me when a story I sank dozens of hours into and generally enjoyed is revealed to be a mess of plot holes and bad cliches.

    Anyway, I’m 80 hours in and waiting for Josephine to finish the job she’s on so I can put her on another one. (I could assign Leliana or Cullen, but their solutions to the operations I’ve got on the docket seem a bit… shortsighted.) Once my OCD’s satisfied, I’ll be starting the final mission and probably saving the world and whatnot. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the game and the time I’ve poured into it.

    That said, here’s my list of complaints!

    1) I need more than three companions at a time, damn it. I want to take Iron Bull along, but my Inquisitor’s already a two-handed warrior/whirling death dervish, and the poor guy’s redundant. Actually, redundancy is a bit of an issue with the companions overall; they each have different specializations/prestige classes that unlock once you befriend them, but still… three mages? What am I going to do with three mages? And while I like Sera well enough, why would I ever pick her over Varric? He’s Varric.

    2) My usual party is Spock/Varric/Blackwall. They have a three-man conversation about the Grey Wardens’ recruitment standards. They have repeated it about a dozen times. I think it’s a bug. Driving me nuts.

    3) I hate the Exalted Plains. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but something about the color palette, the crappy wooden mazes, and the hordes of boring undead almost make me nauseous.

    4) I need more Tier 3 armor and weapon schematics. I need more dragons to murder for their precious bones and scales. I’m hoping some kindly modder will add a new shop to Skyhold which will alleviate both of these problems.

    5) The “search” button highlights stuff in a shade of orange that blends into a lot of the scenery. Being able to select the color would be very, very nice. Modders?

    6) There are a ton of Tier 2 zones. (Some of them slide into Tier 3 in the far corners, but still.) I leveled past that content just by OCDing two of them. That means that going back to finish things up means that you’re not getting level-appropriate loot or experience. I really wish Bioware had introduced some level-scaling for the side quests.

    7) Maybe it’s because I’m playing with a gamepad, but there doesn’t seem to be a “skip dialogue” button. I know it’s a key part of the experience, and Bioware is rightfully proud of the great voice work they’ve obtained, but… Cassandra, I’m only asking about your personal history because I’m farming approval points, I don’t actually care about you at all.

    All that said? Fantastic music, beautiful visuals, an interesting (and, as far as I can tell with my non-Shamused critical eye, intelligent) story, cool companions, some fantastic quests (Emprise Du Lion’s is brilliant), and dragon fights.

    Oh man, the dragon fights.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “It just always kinda depresses me when a story I sank dozens of hours into and generally enjoyed is revealed to be a mess of plot holes and bad cliches.”

      But why?Nothing says that you are a bad/stupid person if you enjoy or dont notice schlock.Schlock can be pretty entertaining,and not just in the ironic fashion.

      “What am I going to do with three mages?”

      Obliterate everyone who dares to look at you the wrong way.

      1. Kavonde says:

        “But why?Nothing says that you are a bad/stupid person if you enjoy or dont notice schlock.Schlock can be pretty entertaining,and not just in the ironic fashion.”

        It’s like finding out that the Santa Claus you met at the mall was just an underpaid dude in a costume. A little bit of magic dies.

        “Obliterate everyone who dares to look at you the wrong way.”

        Not in this game, you won’t. Mages are squishy crowd control with occasional burst damage. The first CC-immune beasty you came across would leave wearing Spock’s ears as a necklace.

      2. stratigo says:

        When someone who’s opinion you respect goes “Oh, that thing you liked, it was bad, and here are the reasons why” it hurts :P. I can’t watch the mass effect2 or 3 spoiler warnings for that reason. I get the feeling Shamus legitimately hates those games, while in skyrim it felt more like good natured nagging on how silly skyrim gets sometimes.

  25. Sacae says:

    The great thing about having a group of different character types is things appeal to different people. Mumbles likes Sera, but many people are whincing after first meeting her. Some really like cass, some dont.

    The thing is, no matter how much you may dislike or like a character you can bet there is someone feeling the exact other way.

  26. Mephane says:

    Well it appears EA did change after all. From Stupid Evil to Diabolic Genius.

    (But with regards to the Plants Vs Zombies shooter you mentioned – I do find it actually pretty good.)

  27. Sacae says:

    BUT even with two players, if one dies the enemies get stronger.

    THIS MAKES NO SENSE. My friend dies and I get that message and Im like WHY

    Edit: For anyone playing two players only, have one of you be a mage. BARRIER helps soooo much.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Wait,Ive just realized what that sentence meant.Why the hell do monsters gain power when one of you dies?Thats just idiotic to the max.

      1. poiumty says:

        Some guy at Bioware got told “monsters need to scale with the number of players”. He was pretty new to this whole video game thing.

      2. Andy says:

        It’s only fair that monsters get XP and levels for killing YOU! (This was a thing in the original Guild Wars.)

        1. Arstan says:

          If we could play the monsters – why not? But since they are there for our fun, why make it fair for us both? ))

  28. Zekiel says:

    Nice article. I find it extremely sad and rather ironic that AAA videogames are trying to do two completely contradictory things:

    1) Create an immersive, cinematic experience
    2) Provide ongoing monetization through microtransactions (see also Dead Space 3, Assassins Creed Unity etc)

    They just do not gel AT ALL.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “I find it extremely sad and rather ironic that AAA videogames are trying to do two completely contradictory things:”

      They arent.Its just a few greedy companies(ea and ubisoft primarily).Whats sad is that its working well enough for them to remain afloat.

      1. Zekiel says:

        Ah maybe my definition of AAA games is wrong then. I tend to limit it to “games produced by EA, Ubisoft and Activision-Blizzard” – in which case (by a very sketchy form of mathmatics, admittedly) two-thirds of AAA games are headed in this direction.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Add valve to that list,and youll reduce the tendency to “only” one half.

    2. Decius says:

      When Unity causes gets blamed for significant damage to the brand, Ubisoft will not try to add microtransactions to their next game.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Haha.I remember when I was that optimistic.You should cherish it while it lasts.

        1. guy says:

          Their share price did fall 12.5%. Maybe that’ll get their attention.

  29. Kian says:

    You mentioned the pots mechanic in multiplayer in the article, and the power mechanic in the main game here, but you forgot about the “councilor missions” mechanic! I don’t mind power being used to limit areas, since to a lesser or greater extent something similar is done in many games (be it by demanding a number of missions, or a level cap, etc).

    Of course, I’m biased, since I had no hurry to advance the main quest. By the time I left the first area I had something like 30 power from trying to complete every mission I could. I eventually left when one of the main missions required me to return to build towers, and I met a dragon and a rift I couldn’t beat. I can see how someone in more of a hurry would be annoyed though.

    Anyway, the councilor mechanic really confused me until I read the post here. For those that don’t know, in addition to using power to unlock areas in the map, the map offers missions for your councilors. These are tasks that can be accomplished either militarily, diplomatically, or through subterfuge. Depending on the approach you take, one of your councilors will be “busy” with that mission and not available for others.

    The baffling thing is that the missions take real-world time, even though nothing else in the game does. I could understand it if the missions required you to complete a number of missions before they completed and your councilors were freed, or you leaving and coming back, or something along those lines. Some kind of interaction with the game. But you can simply set the mission, go do something else, and return 10 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour later and the missions will be done, with your reward waiting.

    It bears repeating, nothing else in the game is timed. You can leave the game unpaused when you leave for work (or school) in the morning, and when you return the game state will not have changed at all. So why are councilor missions, of all things, timed? Was it a mechanic that’s a hold over from a previous design doc?

    One possibility, in light of this post, would be that they are meant to open the gate for the kind of “energy” mechanic that many free to play games have. Basically, some games let you perform a fixed number of actions per day (your “energy”). After performing these actions, you would normally have to find some other game to spend your time. Or you can pay to skip whatever timer is slowing you down.

    The thing is, it doesn’t entirely make sense. The wait times are pretty short, and it’s for a minimal aspect of the game. It’s just confusing.

    1. Daimbert says:

      That almost sounds like the quests you can send companions on in The Old Republic, which take a certain amount of time to complete. But that definitely makes more sense in an MMO than in a single-player game.

      Can you get gifts for your companions doing them? Because that’s what I used them for in TOR, often either with “Quinn, go do a diplomatic mission and get me something nice for Vette” or even, to my main romantic interest “Go get yourself something nice”. So, if so, then that might explain why they were done the way they were: to get the same kind of mechanic (send people off to do things to get you stuff) but they couldn’t come up with a better way to have it take time and not be instantaneous.

      1. Kavonde says:

        Mostly you get a tiny bit of influence or a handful of gold, or the occasional blue or purple item that’s probably several levels below you. Sometimes, you unlock new dungeons or small quest areas to ransack.

        Mostly, though, the missions seem to be a lot of flavor. Reading the descriptions of how your councillors propose to deal with the issue, and the results of their methods, is interesting and helps immerse you in the idea that you’re having an impact on the future of Thedas.

        Unfortunately, the work your minions do doesn’t really get mentioned in the epilogue. There’s a brief scene that varies depending on whether you relied more on force, intrigue, or diplomacy, but nothing really specific. Shame, too; I delayed the final mission for an entire day to finish up a couple of the war room storylines, hoping they’d have an impact on the slideshow, but alas.

  30. SlothfulCobra says:

    Following Bioware as a company feels like following Tolkien if he decided that after Return of the King, he would make 10 more books trying to recreate the events of Die Hard in Middle Earth, or if Terry Pratchett made the next 10 Discworld books about teenagers going to Ankh-Morpork High School, or if Donald Westlake tried his hand at a series of epic fantasy.

    I mean, those can all be great books maybe, but it’s not what I started following you for, and I just want more of what you used to do.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Funny that you mention die hard,but that series is exactly what you are describing.First one was grounded in reality,so far that being barefoot hurt his legs on broken glass.The rest,he was turned into superhero that could wrestle planes out of the sky.

  31. StashAugustine says:

    I’m not really sure how I came to the point of looking forward to a new Mass Effect for the multiplayer but not the story.

    e: although the “monsters get power as party dies” mechanic sounds pretty stupid.

  32. Qsuide says:

    A bit off topic question for Shamus.

    Do you know where the four potions in the Escapist main page picture for this article came from?

    The potions are concept art for a mod and I’m the original artist. I’m trying to find out where the pictures have ended up in, as I have never uploaded them outside the modding team.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m sorry to say I know nothing about where the art comes from. The Escapist art team makes those themselves, and I don’t even know the name of the person who makes them.

      Just for my own curiosity: What game is the mod for?

      1. Qsuide says:

        Thanks and It’s okay, I was 99% sure you don’t make those banners.

        Mod in question is “Arx – End of Sun”.

        It’s a Doom 3 total conversion. Basically just a fan prequel for original Arx Fatalis. The work on it is a bit sporadic and it’s in a lull atm.

        1. Decius says:

          It looks like they took down the image in question?

  33. Deadpool says:

    The thing is, the consumer is not only willing to pay more money for stuff, I think they prefer it.

    Consider GTAV and my totally not scientific tiny sample size experiment. Released a year and a half ago with an online mode that promised Heists. Me and my friends played it quite a bit. And got bored of it. Rockstar kept promising heists any time soon, but not making the deadline (AT LEAST 3 times).

    Rockstar HAS supported the game though. They released free updates, new guns and new clothes and new cars. None of this interested my friends. They put the game out of mind and moved on.

    Now Rockstar has re-released the same game. Nothing added. Same updates, same new cars, same new guns that were given for free. Now for 60 bucks. And still the same heist promise of “soon.”

    ALL of my friends bought it. They all paid 60 bucks for a game THEY ALREADY OWN and have chosen, of their own free will, to never play again.

    The free updates weren’t even on their radar. The 60 dollar update? Countdown to release. When it’s free, it feels worthless…

  34. Atle says:

    What I used to love where games where you went into the world, discovered stuff, solved problems, killed beasties and aquired a new cool weapon … without anyone telling you what to do.

    No real quests, no arrows poiting you were to go next etc. Just cool stuff to discover, and a world moving forward.

    Quests has a tendency to turn discovery and adventure into duty and labour.

    Even grinding can be fun when it’s not “kill 6 giant rats and run back to the quest giver”. Whats is Diablo but grinding? The old Gauntlet games, for those who remember those, are gringind all the way. Grinding to push forward and getting further into the game, getting to the next area/level, or getting that real cool weapon drop, can be pure fun.

    Mechanically “get a quest”, “follow arrow to next location”, “do the task”, “return to quest giver”, “get new quest” often sucks the spirit out of the game world. The game becomes about completing the tasks, instead of exploration, discovery and adventure.

    Or maybe I’m just getting older. That’s how I feel anyway.

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